George MacDonald, Anxiety, and Joy

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish clergyman and writer who profoundly influenced the fiction and non-fiction works of C.S. Lewis. One of Lewis’s lesser-known publications is an edited collection of MacDonald’s writings: the book can be hard to find in print now, but a dear friend gifted my a copy of it two years ago, offering me a valuable 'guided tour' of MacDonald's profound, if at times abstruse, writings on life and faith.

One of my favourite quotes from MacDonald is included in Lewis's collection under the title ‘The Wrong Way with Anxiety’: this particular passage has frequently proven helpful to me, as I have often struggled with anxiety. But in a time of national crisis, I thought it might be more generally relevant. It goes as follows:

‘…there is something in the very presence and actuality of a thing to make one able to bear it; but a man may weaken himself for bearing what God intends him to bear, by trying to bear what God does not intend him to bear…We have no right to school ourselves to an imaginary duty. When we do not know, then what he lays upon us is not to know.’

Anxiety grows in the soil of uncertainty. These are very uncertain times, and in them, we are left at home imagining the worst: ‘What if I get coronavirus?’ ‘What if my family gets coronavirus?’ ‘What if I lose my job?’ ‘What if we’re headed for a recession?’

MacDonald reminds us that trying to anticipate the burdens God intends us to bear in the future is trying to play God in a round-about way: anxiety deceives us into thinking that if we presage future tragedy, we can somehow control it, or we can at least deprive it of the satisfaction of surprising us.  

But for those of us who are fortunate enough to be sitting safely and healthily at home with our families and food in the fridge, our current burden is not losing a loved one or our lives to coronavirus. Many are facing these grave trials, but I am not; I hope the same is true for you. Counting the cost of tragedies that have not yet struck us is—as MacDonald says—to ‘weaken’ ourselves for accepting the burden God does ask us to bear. Right now, that is being patient in the unknown. 

In my church’s online prayer services last week, our rector took us through the Lord’s Prayer line by line. The day we did ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ struck a particular chord: coronavirus has reminded us all of our vulnerability and our dependence on God’s mercy, but we must also try to remember how dependable God’s mercy actually is. The reality is that while I may feel backed into a corner by this virus, literally and metaphorically, I have much to give thanks for. In our waiting, we are being daily refreshed and revived. If I focus on the supposedly imminent arrival of some tragedy, I will miss many of the blessings of today which God is daily providing. And among those daily provisions is in fact joy.

Joy at the beautiful weather;

Joy at the yummy food we have time to cook every evening;

Joy as my pumpkin seedlings, unaware of the current world crisis, put on inches a week;

Joy at talking to family and reconnecting with friends across the world;

Joy at my present health and family’s safety, even knowing that tomorrow everything may change;

Joy at being forever in the hands of a loving Father who knows what the future holds when I don’t, and whose plans are always better than my own.

Comments

Excellent and timely reminder. Wasn't McDonald a gem?

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